Melbourne Cinematheque- Eisenstein’s Revolutionary Aesthetics

28 Mar

Eleanor Colla

If you’re anything like me then the word ‘Montage’ sends shivers down your spine and can only mean one thing: amazing Soviet cinema. Thankfully, the people running Cinematheque are like me and thus the next three Wednesdays (March 30- April 13) are dedicated to Sergei Eisenstein and his Revolutionary Aesthetics. Hailed not only for his films but also his film theories, Eisenstein has long been regarded as one of the world’s most driven and stylistic film-makers. Living and working in Communist Russia, Eisenstein was both highly regarded and under constant scrutiny by the Bolshevik State who controlled the film industry and completed only seven features and a few shorts across his 25 year career.

Despite this, he wrote numerous articles and books on film and, along with his contemporaries, championed the use of such techniques as montage in cinema. Eisenstein relied heavily on editing and audience perception and argued that when the viewer is shown an image and then a seemingly unrelated image it is through the editing techniques used that creates emotions and ideas not present in either of the single shots. This is montage. It is the new ideas realised by the audience after having seen these images that demonstrates the power that montage has.

Eisenstein’s films often outline important moments in Soviet and communist history- albeit with a propagandist edge- and this is where Cinematheque begins with their screening of 1925 classic The Battleship Potemkin. Potemkin tells the story of the disenchanted soldiers aboard the navy ship who, in 1905, took charge of their ship and fired shots against the government buildings of the Tsarist regime. Here, Eisenstein uses montage editing to draw a positive and emotional audience response to the plight of the soldiers and revolutionaries and a negative response towards the Tsarist regime. Due to the effectiveness of editing and along with the subject matter, The Battleship Potemkin is often regarded as one of the strongest propaganda films of all time. And for those wondering, yes, this is the film with the Odessa step scene.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Following from this is Romance Sentimentale, a short film by Eisenstein and Grigori Aleksandrov made in 1930 that has heavy surrealist and European avant-garde overtones. And then, to finish off this first week of Eisenstein is his collaboration with Dmitri Vasilyev on Alexander Nevsky (1938).

An epic period-piece set in the 13th century it depicts Prince Alexander’s plight and battle against the Teutonic invaders, complete with the Battle of the Ice. This battle-ground also leads into a commentary on Soviet politics at the time with the invading forces being dressed in uniforms similar to the Germans in WW1. This aspect was at first embraced by the Stalin regime but then rejected a few weeks later when Stalin and Nazi-Germany entered a non-aggression pact, leading the film to be pulled from distribution.

Source: Wikimedia commons

And so concludes this week’s viewing of Eisenstein’s Revolutionary Aesthetics with more to follow. Personally, I can’t wait.

Tickets available from ACMI


One Response to “Melbourne Cinematheque- Eisenstein’s Revolutionary Aesthetics”


  1. Melbourne Cinematheque: Eisentein (week 2) « Australian Film Review - April 5, 2011

    […] Read week 1 here […]

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